Harnessing Freelance Talent During Uncertain Times
With the terms of Brexit still not decided upon, and an emerging digital skills gap, should your small business look towards freelancers?
A recent poll by the CBI shows investment in the UK economy from large companies could reduce as Brexit approaches and confidence falls. The headlines are focused on the impact of reduced investment from corporations, but there is another view, which shows there is a continued and increasing importance placed on the contribution small businesses make to the UK’s economy.
The 5.4 million small firms in the UK represent 99% of all businesses in the UK. These small businesses quietly, consistently contribute to the UK’s GDP, and they employ more than half of all private sector workers.
In short, they are the unsung engine room of the UK’s economy.
So, as Brexit continues to threaten to reduce the contribution from larger corporates, small businesses need to continue to grow to keep the UK’s economy healthy.
Growth in uncertain times is challenging
Brexit is making trading difficult for many small businesses and uncertainty is to blame. Long-term financial and business planning difficult, with the uncertain future facing the UK making small business owners cautious. It’s not easy to commit to long term financial planning or investing in growth when the future’s so unclear. But, ironically, it’s now small businesses owners need to be more ambitious, creative and productive than ever before.
Small businesses contributed £1.8 trillion to the economy in 2016, up from £1.2 trillion in 2015, and represented roughly half of all private sector turnover. But despite the levels of growth over the last 12 months, committing investment in hiring full-time staff might seem like a scary prospect for a lot of small business owners right now.
Pushing for small, incremental improvements
There is, however, an option for small businesses to continue to push for growth and productivity without having to take large financial risks. By using a large network of freelancers in the UK, it is possible to outsource small, manageable projects, which allow businesses to stay productive without having to risk recruitment fees and taking on additional salaries.
For example, hiring a permanent member of staff on £40,000 a year to create a new website is not an option for a lot of small businesses at the moment. But offering a website project to a freelancer can result in the same outcome for a fraction of the cost.
Considering it’s possible for a small business to outsource almost anything to a professional freelancer, it presents a low-risk option for delivering projects critical to business growth. And what’s exciting is a few small projects can kick-start the growth that creates opportunities to hire full-time employees where this would previously have been out of the question.
Addressing the skills gap
The challenge to reach and attract skilled workers is already tough for small businesses. For tech, engineering and creative talent, there is already an extremely competitive recruitment market. Remote freelancers present a solution by removing some of the barriers (like the commute) to traditional recruitment. However, the reliance on the UK’s freelancers could increase if freedom of movement is restricted to and from the EU. This could lead small businesses to using ‘hidden’ freelance workers like stay-at-home parents or people freelancing as a second job.
According to IPSE, the body representing freelancers in the UK, there are around 2 million freelancers in the UK, covering almost every professional service from web design to accounting and HR. Their 2015 Freelancer Survey also showed there is a huge community of freelancers who are stay-at-home parents freelancing around raising their families, recently retired professionals or full-time employed people earning a second income by freelancing outside of their normal working hours.
Answering the small business growth question
Combining the approach of resourcing projects in smaller, less risky, chunks with a skilled network of UK freelancers could be an answer to the question many small business owners are asking themselves – ‘how do I continue to grow my business as Brexit approaches?’
Gary Elliott is marketing director of weliketowork.com